Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey GCMG, GCVO, KCIE, CB, ADC

Having tantalized some of my regular blog readers with a reference to one of the naval members of the Halsey family in yesterday’s bog entry, I thought that I might add a few biographical details about him today.

Lionel Halsey was the fourth son of Sir Thomas Frederick Halsey Bt MP, and very early in his life he decided upon a career in the Royal Navy. After attending Stubbington House School in Fareham, Hampshire (a well-known navy ‘crammer’), he joined HMS Britannia as a Cadet in 1885. He became a Midshipman in 1888, a Sub-Lieutenant, and then a Lieutenant in 1894, having served with the Royal Yacht Squadron from 1893.

His next sea appointment was to HMS Powerful, and in 1897 he sailed in her to the Far East. The ship was supposed to come back to the UK in 1899, but during her return journey the Second Boer War broke out, and she was diverted to South Africa to given what support she could. This took the form of a Naval Brigade, part of which – a battery of 4.7-inch naval guns mounted of extemporised mountings – was commanded by Lieutenant Halsey. His exemplary service marked Lionel out for rapid promotion, and he became a Commander in 1902 when he joined the newly-built cruiser HMS Good Hope. Only three years later he became a Captain, and took over command of HMS Donegal.

In 1912 Captain Lionel Halsey took command of the newly-commissioned battle cruiser HMS New Zealand, and during a cruise to New Zealand to show the flag, Lionel was presented with a Māori piupiu (warrior’s skirt) and hei-tiki (pendant) which he was asked to wear if the ship ever went into battle. He did so, and it is recorded that he wore them on the bridge of his ship at the Battles of Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank.

By the time of the Battle of Jutland in 1916 Lionel had been promoted and was Admiral Jellicoe’s Captain of the Fleet, serving aboard the flagship, HMS Iron Duke. When Admiral Jellicoe moved to the Admiralty in November 1916 to become First Sea Lord, Lionel went with him and became Fourth Sea Lord. The following year he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and moved to the position of Third Sea Lord. He returned to sea the following year when he took over as Rear Admiral commanding the Second Battle Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet at the same time as becoming the commander of the Australian Fleet. He held these two posts from 1918 to 1920, during which time he received his knighthood.

He retired in 1926 and became an Extra Equerry to the King, King George V. He also took on the role of Comptroller and Treasurer of the Prince of Wales’s household, and when King George died, he moved over to become an Extra Equerry to King Edward VIII. Unfortunately the relationship between the two broke down as the Abdication crisis loomed, and he ceased to perform these duties, only to return as an Extra Equerry to King George V when the latter came to the throne.

He died in 1949, and Arthur Marder (the famous naval historian) wrote of him that he was:

one of the most popular Officers of his day – a delightful, outgoing, frank person, a fine leader, a very zealous and competent Officer, who might have gone to the very top after the War but for his acceptance of a Court Appointment.’

It is of interest to note that he was a very, very distant cousin of Admiral William Frederick ‘Bill’ (or ‘Bull’) Halsey USN, who at various stages of the Second World War commanded Carrier Division 2, Task Force 16, the US forces in the South Pacific Area, and the US Third Fleet.

Well that’s one task completed; only a load more to do …

I’ve spent the last three days putting together the talk I have to present when I am Installed as the new Worshipful Master of the Veritatem Sequere Lodge in Hertfordshire. It is the Province’s Research Lodge, and it is a tradition that the incoming Master gives a talk on a subject of their choosing.

I have chosen to talk about the Halsey family of Great Gaddesden, Hertfordshire. They held the major offices in Freenasonry in Hertfordshire for a period of over one hundred and fifty year, and many of them had distinguished non-Masonic careers in politics and the armed forces. The latter includes a naval captain who wore a Maori war-skirt on the bridge of his battle cruiser at the Battle of Heligoland Bight and the Battle of Dogger Bank!

They don’t breed them like that anymore … or do they?

Anniversary gift from my wife

Today is our thirty fifth wedding anniversary, and this morning my wife and I exchanged cards and gifts to celebrate the occasion.

Now my wife is easy to buy gifts for … especially since she started to collect Pandora jewelry. All I have to do is to look at her online wish list, copy images of what is on the list onto my iPhone, and make a visit to the nearest branch. I then go through the ‘Have you got one of these in stock?’ conversation with the sales assistant as I show her the images … et voila, mission accomplished!

Sue tells me that she does not have as simple a job as I do … but this year she had a brainwave and bought me a book that she knew that I didn’t have (I think that she checked my bookshelves beforehand) … and it is exactly what I would have bought had I seen it.

A HISTORY OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR IN 100 OBJECTS is one of those books that is an ideal bedside companion. As the name suggests, it is split up into one hundred short chapters, each of which describes an object from the First World War and its relevance to the history of the conflict. Some random examples include:

  • The pen that signed the Ulster Covenant
  • HMS Lance‘s 4-inch gun
  • Austrian commemorative ribbons
  • Nurse Cavell’s secret diary
  • The Soixante-Quinze field gun
  • A Simplex trench locomotive
  • Augustus Agar’s boat

The book was written by John Hughes-Wilson, with the assistance of Nigel Steel (Imperial War Museum Consultant) and Mark Hawkins-Dady (Editor), and published by Cassell Illustrated and the Imperial War Museum (ISBN 978 1 84403 918 0). It is dedicated to the memory of the late ‘Professor and Brigadier Richard Holmes CBE, TD, scholar, gentleman and soldier, patron and founder of the Guild of Battlefield Guides‘, who was possibly one of the best (if not the best) military historians the UK has had in a generation.

I am going to enjoy reading this book over the coming months … especially because of the personal anniversary that it celebrates.

Warships of the Great War era: A history in ship models

Some days ago Sue received an email that had links to various books that were on sale at reduced prices. One of the books on the list was WARSHIPS OF THE GREAT WAR ERA: A HISTORY IN SHIP MODELS. She thought that it would might appeal to me … and it did.

It was on sale at £10.00 off its original published price of £25.00, but after a bit of research on the Internet I found it on sale elsewhere for less than £10.00. I ordered it … and it was delivered a few days ago.

The book was written by David Hobbs and published in 2014 by Seaforth Publishing (ISBN 978 1 84832 212 7). The models used to illustrate the book come from the collections of the National Maritime Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Australian War Memorial, and the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The book is split into eight sections, some of which are split into sub-sections:

  • Introduction
  • Battleships
    • Early Experiments with aviation
    • Battleship superstructure
    • The underwater danger
  • Battlecruisers
    • Features of a capital ship
    • Capital ship development 1914-1918
  • Cruisers
    • features of a light cruiser
    • Guns and gun mountings
  • Destroyers
    • Features of a Destroyer
    • Destroyer development
  • Submarines
  • Other Warship Types
    • Unconventional responses to the U-boat menace
    • Boats and boat storage
  • Merchantmen at War

I don’t think that I would have bought this book for its full price … but for just under £10.00 it was a bargain.

One of the models featured in the book is of HMS Vindictive at the time of the Zeebrugge Raid that took place on St George’s Day, 1918.

As a child, this model used to fascinate me, and led to my long-term interest in the raid. It was good to see it again, and hopefully it is still on display at the IWM.

The birth of Georgy Zhukov

Today is the 120th anniversary of the birth of Georgy Zhukov.

He was born into a peasant family in Strelkovka and when he was old enough, he managed to become an apprentice furrier in Moscow. In 1915 he was conscripted into the 10th Dragoon Novgorod Regiment, and during his service in the Imperial Army he achieved a reputation for bravery. He was awarded the Cross of St. George twice and promoted to the rank of non-commissioned officer.

He did not join the Bolshevik Party until after the 1917 October Revolution, but this did not hinder his career in the Red Army, and between 1918 and 1921 he fought in the Russian Civil War as a member of 1st Cavalry Army. His service was recognised by the award of the Order of the Red Banner.

His rise through the ranks of the Red Army was steady if unspectacular.

  • May 1923: Appointed to a command position in the 39th Cavalry Regiment.
  • 1924: Attended Higher School of Cavalry.
  • 1925: Commander of the 39th Cavalry Regiment.
  • May 1930: Commander of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, 7th Cavalry Division.
  • February 1931: Appointed become Assistant Inspector of Cavalry of the Red Army.
  • May 1933: Commander of the 4th Cavalry Division.
  • 1937: Commander of the 3rd Cavalry Corps, and then the 6th Cavalry Corps.
  • 1938: Deputy Commander of cavalry in the Belorussian Military District.

His big opportunity came in 1938 when he became Commander of the First Soviet Mongolian Army Group. The Army Group was fighting an undeclared border war with Japan’s Kwantung Army along the border between Mongolia and Japanese-controlled Manchukuo. As the fighting escalated Zhukov began planning what was to become a major offensive. On 20th August 1939 the much-reinforced First Soviet Mongolian Army Group began its offensive with a huge artillery barrage on the Japanese front line, and this was followed up by an attack that was led by nearly 500 tanks, supported by large numbers of fighters and bombers.

The Battle of Khalkhin Gol/Nomonhan was a decisive victory, and by 31st August the Japanese had been pushed back. As a result, Zhukov was declared a Hero of the Soviet Union, and in 1940 Zhukov he became an Army General. From then on his rise within the Red Army became more rapid.

  • 1st February 1941: After two spectacular victories during Army-level wargames held in January 1941, Zhukov became Chief of the Red Army’s General Staff and Deputy Minister of Defense of the USSR.
  • 29th July 1941: Removed from his post of Chief of the General Staff and appointed Commander of the Reserve Front.
  • 10th September 1941: Commander of the Leningrad Front.
  • 6th October 1941: Appointed the representative of Stavka to the Reserve and Western Fronts.
  • 10th October 1941: When the Reserve and Western Fronts were combined to form the Western Front, Zhukov was appointed to be their new commander.
  • August 1942: Deputy Commander-in-Chief and sent to take charge of the defence of Stalingrad.
  • November 1942: After planning operations against the German troops around Stalingrad, Zhukov coordinated the attacks made by the Western Front and the Kalinin Front during Operation Mars.
  • January 1943: Coordinated the actions of the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts (and units of the Baltic Fleet) during Operation Iskra.
  • July 1943: Stavka coordinator at the Battle of Kursk.
  • 1st March 1944: Appointed Commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front
  • May 1944: During Operation Bagration Zhukov coordinated the attacks of the 1st Belorussian and 2nd Belorussian Fronts.
  • 23rd August 1944: Sent to the 3rd Ukrainian Front to prepare it for the advance into Bulgaria.
  • 16th November 1944: Commander of the 1st Belorussian Front, which he led through the Vistula–Oder Offensive and the Battle for Berlin.

After the war he fell out of favour with Stalin, and he was sent to command troop in some of the more obscure and less important regions of the USSR. Attempts were made by Lavrentiy Beria (Head of the NKVD) to discredit him, and he was accused of Bonapartism.

When Stalin died suddenly in 1953, Zhukov led the team that arrested Beria, and he was part of the Military Tribunal that tried and sentenced him to death. Under the new leadership of Premier Nikolai Bulganin, Zhukov became Defense Minister, and he remained in post until he fell out of favour again and was retired into relative obscurity aged 62. His memoirs were published in 1969 and became they a best-seller, but on 18th June 1974 Zhukov died as a result of a stroke.


Over the past few years a growing number of war films originating in Eastern Europe (mainly Poland and Russia) have been released on DVD in the UK, and this is the latest one that I have bought.

BATTALION tells the story of the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death, a female-only Russian infantry unit that was raised in Petrograd in May 1917 and fought during the First World War. The driving force behind the creation of the unit was its first commander – Maria Bochkareva – and it was authorised by the then Minister of War of the Russian Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky.

Maria Aronova as Maria Bochkareva.

The film’s main character is Maria Bochkareva (played by Maria Aronova), a peasant women who had managed to join the Russian Army in 1914 and risen to the rank of a junior NCO by 1917, and who became the unit’s commanding officer. After training …

The battalion on parade outside the Winter Palace in Petrograd (St Petersburg)..

The battalion on a training run past the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, Petrograd (St Peterburg). (This Church was built between 1883 and 1907 on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in March 1881 by an anarchist’s bomb.)

… the unit was attached to the 525th Kiuruk-Darinski Regiment, which was located near Smorgon.

The battalion’s trenches.

It took an active part in the Kerensky Offensive, and managed to break through the German trenches … unlike its male counterparts.

The battalion reached the German front line trenches, but were then unable to hold them in the face of a counter-attack. The angled pipes in the background are gas shell projectors or mortars that were known as Gaswurfminen.

The unit became isolated, and were eventually forced to retreat back to their starting point. The 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death was still in the front line when the October Revolution took place, but not long afterwards it was disbanded.

The story told by the film remains fairly true to actual events, although – as one would expect – it does change certain things for dramatic effect. The battle scenes are quite brutal and graphic, and are not for the squeamish. It also shows the effect ‘Soldier’s Committees’ had on the discipline of the Russian Army (basically there was none!) and the inability of Officers to induce the rank-and-file of their units to do anything they did not want to do.

This film has been described as being a piece of modern propaganda – and it probably is – but the acting is good (if a little stylised in places), and the attention to detail is excellent. At one point during a trench raid one of the women picks up and fires a German light machine gun … and it is a Madsen of the sort used by the Germans during the First World War!

There and back again: Our postponed visit to the National Archives

Sue and I originally planned to go to the National Archives last week … but went to Canterbury and Herne Bay in Kent instead. As we wanted to try to complete our research into the military career of William Richardson, we decided to go to the Archives today.

We left home at 9.00am … and by 9.05am the Satnav had notified us that our planned route was subject to massive delays! Luckily it gave us several alternative routes, and the one we selected enabled us to reach the Archives just before 11.00am.

We spent four hours looking through numerous documents, but despite our best endeavours we found no trace of William Richardson in any of them … which was not the disaster it might at first appear to be. It proved that he was not demoted from his rank of Battalion Sergeant Major from the time he was promoted until his retirement.

The journey home started well … but the closer we got to home, the worse the traffic became. We managed to find a couple of shortcuts that got us around the worst of the hold ups, but it still took us nearly two and a half hours to get home.

(The traffic problems were caused by the closure of one of the Dartford Tunnels. This caused a massive tailback on the counter-clockwise part of the M25 and the eastbound A2, which in turn resulted in huge traffic jams at almost every major road junction in South East London.)

As part of its commemoration of the centenary of the First World War, the National Archives has commissioned a number of sculptures by Canadian artist Ian Kirkpatrick. The sculptures are made from cardboard, and are designed to pack flat so that they can be assembled very quickly to create an almost instant exhibition.

As can be seen from the photographs that can be seen below, the designs are heavily influenced by the commercial packaging used during the war.

During our visit I saw two of the sculptures; BRITANNIA and BLAST.


This sculpture represents the role played by women during the First World War, and depicts Britannia atop a Mk V Tank holding a shell made by women in a munitions factory. It also makes reference to the Suffragettes.


The figure depicted in this sculpture is a machine gunner in a helmet and gas mask firing a Vickers Heavy Machine Gun.

The name of the sculpture makes reference to the magazine published by the Vorticist movement before the outbreak of the war.